Never before have I witnessed such a troubling series of events as those that occurred over the past several weeks involving law enforcement and the public. The officer-involved shooting death of Michael Moore here in our own community reminds us that the challenges we face are local as well as national. The events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, Dallas, Florida and elsewhere have shocked the nation and have continued to challenge our understanding of what values we share as Americans.
The barbarous killing of police officers simply because they wear a badge is unconscionable. Law enforcement officers deserve our unequivocal support. The Bible at John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this; than to lay down one’s own life for one’s friends.”
When law enforcement officers take their oath of service they tacitly acknowledge that there might come a day where they have to lay down their lives not only for family and friends, but also for complete strangers. For accepting this risk in the name of public safety, all officers are worthy of our respect and gratitude.
However, I also grieve the tragic loss of life at the hands of law enforcement officers when a response of lethal force is not required. Moreover, while police killings have occurred across all racial and ethnic lines, the seeming endless stream of minority community members killed by police is deeply problematic because it has contributed to an erosion of community trust and reprehensible acts of violence and retaliation against police officers.
There is an urgency now for us to find ways to solve what Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director Jim Comey have characterized as a “slow rolling crisis.” A path has to be hewn whereby we esteem law and order as well as uphold some of our most cherished constitutional principles, such as due process and equal protection under the law. We have to ensure that all citizens are not unduly deprived of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As we work together to find solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and others have implemented several programs and initiatives to protect citizens as well as the police.
In the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, African-American leaders (community leaders) in Mobile expressed great concern to me over what they perceived to be the militarization of police and the unequal treatment of African-Americans by police. I convened a meeting of those community leaders, consisting of pastors, business leaders and community activists, so they could meet with federal and local law enforcement leaders.
Even though the first meeting started out with some acrimony, all parties agreed it was beneficial and agreed to meet quarterly thereafter. At later meetings, a constructive bridge-building dialogue emerged, and both groups committed to working together and keeping the lines of communication open.
From these meetings and in response to the community leaders’ request, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Mobile Police Department collaborated to teach high schoolers how to de-escalate tensions if they encountered law enforcement officers. Specifically, the students role-play as police officers encountering suspects on the street, at home or during a traffic stop.
The FBI also teaches students about police use of lethal force and how and where to lodge complaints if officers violate their civil rights. They also have the opportunity to observe their chaperones struggle in making the split-second decisions on whether to shoot the video suspects in the firearms training simulator. The experience is rounded out by the students eating lunch with law enforcement officers and talking about the day’s activities.
Interacting with the officers and agents helps the students dispel a palpable fear of police and they also learn about what their rights are, and when and how to exercise them. Since May of 2015 the program has been administered to 14 local school or youth groups and a total of approximately 400 students.
While educating students about encounters with law enforcement is important, citizens don’t bear the sole responsibility for good conduct. That’s why DOJ has strongly encouraged police departments across the country to provide their officers with anti-bias training that will better equip them to serve diverse communities.
In April of this year I invited several police chiefs and sheriffs of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds from throughout Southern Alabama to my office in order to preview the PEACE course (Prejudice, Empathy, Attitude, Communication and Engagement in a Law Enforcement Environment), a police training course developed by Jim Glennon of Calibre Press. The course teaches officers how unconscious biases, perceptions, memory and stress can impact how they carry out their duties. It also teaches them how to use more effective communication skills when under stress.
As a result of that meeting, the first PEACE training course will be administered late next month in Mobile to street-level officers from Mobile as well as to officers from all of our neighboring Gulf Coast states. MPD offered to underwrite the entire cost of this critical training so smaller police departments throughout the region can send their officers to attend at no cost.
Officer safety also continues to be one of my top priorities. Since the spring of 2012, personnel from my office have administered 150 officer safety trainings to 7,500 officers in the Southern District of Alabama.
As a pluralistic society, we obviously still have a long way to go before we can reach mutual understanding. However, we have to resist the inclination to retreat to our racial, ethnic or ideological islands of isolation. We need each other.
Finally, endless programs can be designed with no success if we fail to recognize that the true solution lies outside of our own understanding. During the Revolutionary War the Continental Congresses issued no less than 15 separate calls for days of prayer. On June 6, 1944, as 160,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy, France, President Franklin Roosevelt asked America to join him in a prayer at a time of great crisis.
If these esteemed men can serve as our example, then I ask men and women of good heart to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation.
Kenyen R. Brown,
U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Alabama
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